Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Scott Wesley Borden, OHC
RCL - Proper 25 B - Sunday 25 October 2009
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
On the face of it, this is a very happy Gospel story. Bartimaeus is blind. Jesus heals him. All live happily ever after. But my grandmother taught me carefully that there were no silver linings without dark clouds as well. So lets spend a little time looking for some of those clouds... what could be more fun...
In miracle stories, the miracle tends to push the rest of the story out of the picture. There is a lot more in the story than just Bartimaeus having his sight restored.
Look for instance at the crowd. If we focus only on Bartimaeus, then the crowd is just set dressing, but that is not the case.
This is a large, enthusiastic, faithful crowd. They have gathered to cheer Jesus - to worship... It’s a crowd that could easily be compared to any Sunday morning congregation. Good people gathered to praise Jesus. We should aspire to be like them.
But look at the function of this congregation. Jesus is in the middle and over on the edge somewhere is blind Bartimaeus needing help. And when Bartimaeus cries out for help what does the admirable congregation do?
They shush him... try to keep him from making a scene... They do what they can to keep him from getting the help he needs. They literally try to stand in the way of God’s healing power.
I said we could aspire to be like this crowd - this congregation. And now I have to face the fact that, at least some of the time, I don’t have to aspire... I am already part of this congregation.
For the sake of maintaining a joyful atmosphere we sometimes stand in the way of God’s healing power. For the sake of maintaining a familiar status quo we sometimes stand in the way of God’s justice. For the sake of good liturgy we sometimes defer the building of God’s kingdom.
Well, there is a dark cloud... this story is asking me to notice something about myself that I don’t want to notice... Something that, once I’ve noticed it, requires me to do some work. I have to take care not to get so caught up in following Jesus that I forget to follow Jesus. A dark cloud...
But that’s just the first cloud...
There is something about the way this miracle takes place that leaves me with questions. I know, and we all know, people with faith as strong as Bartimaeus, who have serious needs and who ask for God’s healing - and don’t appear to receive it.
I talked with a 10 year old boy who was afraid to pray. When his grandmother was terminally ill he had prayed earnestly that God would heal her. But she died. Children have a way of putting themselves at the center of things... he had concluded that God had allowed his grandmother to die as way of punishing him. He had taken this one step further. He feared that anything he prayed for, God would do the opposite. Experience had taught him this. So he was afraid to pray.
The combination of innocence and lack of perspective make for a heart rending story. But its not unique. This story of Bartimeaus, who’s prayer is answered so quickly and so exactly, would not have helped my 10-year-old friend. It is, for me, a cloud.
Its interesting that the compilers of the Lectionary have chosen to offer part of the story of Job with this Gospel passage. We know the story of Job. He was a good and decent man who suffered terribly in the cause of what seems to be nothing more than a bit of sport between God and the devil.
After the suffering God makes things up for Job - that’s what we heard about this morning. But in the midst of suffering Job surely must have felt that God refused to hear his prayers.
His helpful friends added insult to injury by telling Job that he, no doubt, was the cause of his own suffering. Surely he must have done something bad. Yet Job remained steadfast in his faith, not because his prayers were answered, but because his faith was unshakable. That, of course, is the wager God made with the devil - so at least God wins...
When Job’s fortunes begin to turn, his friends all come back. Now they eat with him and now they show him sympathy... where was that sympathy when he was suffering? When he needed it? They were busy heaping on judgment. It’s a cloud implicit in the story of Bartimaeus. The crowd is really not interested in the needs of the needy... we tend to view the needy and the injured with suspicion and judgment. Scattered clouds seem to be in the forecast...
There is an odd twist in the story of Bartimaeus. When Jesus restores his sight he says “Go; your faith has made you well.” But Bartimaeus does not go. He stays. He follows Jesus. This is exactly not what he was commanded to do.
Bartimaeus’ gratification is instant, And so is his disobedience.
Bartimaeus’ miracle doesn’t really have the simple, happy ending we may think it has because his life doesn’t end when his sight is restored.
His identity, his livelihood was as a blind beggar. It was, at the time, not the worst way to make a living. Post-miracle Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, the blind beggar was going to need a new identity and, more to the point, a new job. His sight has been restored and his world has been turned upside down and his status quo has been shattered. That is the miracle. And that would be another dark cloud. My grandmother would be proud.
The miracle of healing for Bartimaeus is all too easy to spot. In my own experience I find that miracles are much more subtle. And I find that the miracle I want, the miracle I’m looking for, the obvious miracle, actually blinds me to the miracle that is taking place.
I had a friend some years ago who was seriously ill - both physically and emotionally. I had known him for many years and watched his downward spiral. In the end there was nothing I could do but sit with him a few evenings a week and listen to him rant.
I prayed earnestly for a miracle... that God would give me something to say or show me something to do to make things better. Nothing...
And then one day my friend pointed out to me the miracle I was not seeing. In the middle of a long list of unhappy things he paused and looked at me. And then he said: “I’m glad you still come to visit. I know I’m really difficult to be around and nobody else comes any more. But you still come and it really helps.”
The miracle I wanted - to be able to fix things - to be a hero - was blinding me to the miracle that was being given - I could accompany a friend on his journey, albeit a painful one. He told me how it mattered to him, but I find that even now he still journeys with me and brings richness, compassion, patience, to my life. Its not the miracle I prayed for. Its not the kind of answer Bartimaeus got. But it is a blessing.
Bartimaeus’ miracle is not going to be without pain. He hasn’t followed Jesus command to go, He is following Jesus. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem... Ultimately on his way to crucifixion. Bartimaeus’, eyes now open, will soon see the Son of David who has shown him such mercy nailed, with no mercy at all, to a cross. Dark clouds indeed.
The miracle I need, that we all need, is to have our eyes opened to God’s presence in our lives and in our world. But to have our eyes opened will mean that we see not only joy, but sorrow. Not only resurrection, but crucifixion. Not only beauty, but ugliness. Silver linings with their dark clouds still attached.
Jesus doesn’t offer us easy life. Jesus offers abundant life, total life. We pray that, as God opened the eyes of Bartimaeus, God will open our eyes to the life that is all around us.--